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Pensacola spill imperils habitat restoration area

Associated Press
Published June 17, 2003

PENSACOLA - Oily fuel that spilled from a freighter threatened a $1.7-million habitat restoration project along the shore of Pensacola Bay.

Work continued Monday to clean about 2,000 gallons spilled from the Bahamas-flagged Alchiba at Pensacola's port over the weekend. Crews hired by V. Ships, which manages the 499-foot vessel, were handling the cleanup.

Containment booms kept much of the fuel out of the open bay, but some reached the Project Greenshores restoration area within a mile of the port, said Sava Varazo, a Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokesman.

"The wind and current couldn't have been worse," Varazo said. "A lot of volunteer hours and community effort went into this project."

Greenshores, funded by grants and corporate sponsors, is an attempt to restore salt marshes, oyster beds and other natural habitat. About 50,000 sea grass plants and 16 tons of oysters, which filter the water, have been planted in shallow water along the shore.

An oil sheen could be seen in the water and samples were taken to the DEP laboratory for analysis. Project manager Robin Finkel said his first impression was that neither the grasses nor sand islands at the site were damaged.

The mixture of diesel fuel and heavier fuel oil was discharged through the ship's ballast tank, said V. Ships spokesman Jim Lawrence.

"We're going to figure exactly how this happened so it doesn't happen again," he said.

The spill also marred an advertising photo shoot for a pair of 2004 Bayliner Maxum boats at a nearby marina. An oily line coated the hulls of the 24-foot boats at the waterline.

"We had brand new boats just out the factory," said freelance photo coordinator Dan Schantz. "We can't get them clean."

He said still photos would be retouched to erase the line but a video shoot would have to be rescheduled.

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